Happy May Day!

Industrial Workers of the World’s website points out that the country that founded May Day (May 1) seems to have forgotten it:

Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers’ Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.

Most Americans don’t realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as “American” as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Jack London’s The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860’s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn’t until the late 1880’s that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

Unions and other worker organizations have brought much in the way of better lives for many Americans and others across the globe. And most of the world’s workers are workers of color–often working ultimately for white-controlled corporations. They still need much new organization to end various types of oppression they face.

Racism as Reality TV

If you’re reading here and you have cable tv, you might want to set the DVR to record a new reality television show that addresses racism (hat tip: @BlackInformant via Twitter).   On Sunday (5/3), The Learning Channel’s (TLC’s) will debut a new show called “Guess Who’s Coming Over” in which a self-described “redneck” and his (white) family are matched with a young, urban black man.

I admit that I’m both curious and skeptical about this show.   I’ll post an update here after I’ve had a chance to see it and review it.

Nominate Kimberlé Crenshaw for Supreme Court

With the soon-to-be vacant seat on the Supreme Court due to the retirement of Justice Souter, President Obama has a unique opportunity to make history with his nominee to fill that position.   I want to add my voice to Melissa Lacewell Harris’ call to nominate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to the Supreme Court (hat tip: @bfp @harrislacewell via Twitter).    Crenshaw is, as Harris describes her, a “field-defining scholar” in the area of race, gender and the law.

Earlier this week, First Lady Michelle Obama joined other women at the U.S. Capitol to dedicate a bust of Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and early advocate for women’s right to vote.   At that ceremony, Mrs. Obama said, “I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America.”

To really bring change and fulfill the legacy of Sojourner Truth, President Obama has a unique opportunity to seat the first black woman on the Supreme Court.   Crenshaw is that woman.

Racism, Reporting and 100 Days

This week marked President Obama’s first 100 days in office (Creative Commons License photo credit: Alexander van Dijk).  Lots of reporters took the opportunity of this somewhat artificial marker to evaluate Obama’s achievements and popularity.  The reporting on his first 100 days was also the occasion for some racism in journalism that it’s important to call out.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing at The Atlantic, is right when he says that he finds Byron York’s (Washington Examiner) “incredibly racist.”  Here’s the relevant passage:

On his 100th day in office, Barack Obama enjoys high job approval ratings, no matter what poll you consult. But if a new survey by the New York Times is accurate, the president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Coates writes about his hesitancy to call out York for the racism in this passage because of what he calls “political correctness run amok” in which identifying racism is seen as more egregious than the racism itself.     Coates is more eloquent:

We live in a country that may well be offended by racism, but it’s equally offended that anyone might actually charge as much.

For evidence, he cites some of the recent examples of overt racist expressions by James Watson, Geraldine Ferraro, Michael Richards, “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, which were then all followed by plaintive wails of racial innocence and crys of “offense” by these white folks at being labeled racist.

And, in a support show of support for Coates’ assessment, Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress, says:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an important post here that I think could probably use an “amen” from a white person. It’s absurd how totally disproportionate the volume of public concern is about black people “playing the race card” or about “political correctness” stifling someone or other to the volume of public concern about actual racism.

I can add another hardy “amen” to the white people that agree with Coates.   Of course, I agree with Yglesias that actual racism is a much bigger problem than the putative threat of “playing the race card,” and I commend him for saying so publicly.

Clearly, this is not a widely held opinion among the (supposedly liberal) readers at Think Progress.   Have a look at the comments (120 and growing rapidly last I checked) over there; most are from white people who do not agree with Yglesias.

Update @ 12:05pmET: Coates punches out another post about this ongoing controversy, “Byron York is Not a Racist.”